Who is a Jew?

This is a guest post by Dierdra Rutherford Fein
I’ve tricked my husband and I can’t even find it within myself to feel very guilty. When we were young he mentioned that he regretted not going to Hebrew school and having a bar mitzvah, nearly in the same breath he told me he didn’t think of himself as Jewish. Of course, most of the world’s Jews don’t think of him as Jewish either, with a non‐Jewish mother in the mix, but that was irrelevant in that moment and, frankly, barely relevant to me now.
I knew he was raised going to Pesach at his savta’s house and celebrating Chanukah at home with his family, but his father hadn’t really practiced his faith during his adult years and knowing that his mother made him like any other goy to most Jews left him feeling totally apart from that half of his heritage. So I decided to learn a bit about Judaism, starting with the gateway‐holiday, Chanukah. I learned the prayers the first year we were together and insisted on playing dreidel with his family. By the second year I had my own menorah and was lighting the candles. Rosh Hashanah started subtly, just apples and honey the first year, with a quick “shana tova” thrown in. I knew my husband was agnostic, and not particularly comfortable with all of the trappings of religion, but I managed to convince him that a New Year’s celebration was a fairly secular event…
Purim did it. The entire holiday is built around the miraculous survival of the Jewish people, wine, food, costumes and tomfoolery, without a mention of God in the megillah, my husband was sold. Four Purim’s later we celebrate nearly all the holidays fully and together. He’s started calling himself a Jew, first to himself, then to others, and he seems happy to have the holidays, the mezuzot, the challah and the Hebrew.
I hate to think of myself as at all manipulative, and he’s certainly not a man to be molded, which is one of the things I love most about him, but I can’t help but feel that I tricked him into a Jewish identity. I look at the state of halacha and I feel a tiny speck of guilt underneath all of my joy. Knowing that he isn’t halachically Jewish, according to anyone to the right of Reform Judaism hurts me. He could move to Israel under the Law of Return, and live there among people who look like him and never belong. When we’ve gone to synagogues and Judaica stores together, he’s the one they greet. He’s stood at Masada and he’s floated in the Dead Sea, and when my conversion is over and we are able to start a family, our children will be Jewish, but none of that is enough, because he has a goyish mother.
It’s frustrating to think about and I’ve decided, after a great deal of consideration, that the halacha, in this instance, just doesn’t matter to me. It may be that other people want to debate the point, and I do understand that, but it isn’t only an issue of legality, but one of humanity. There are human beings behind the law, families and lives that are put through the wringer. When I stand next to my husband, lighting the Shabbat candles I’m not standing next to a goy, or a “half‐Jew,” I’m standing next to a Jewish
man, who will be the father of my Jewish children. That’s enough for me.